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Monday, January 26, 2009

Are Gamers Served by More Government Regulation and Spending?
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The Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) is a group that does some good things to mobilize gamers to fight misguided regulation of video games. I greatly appreciate their tireless efforts to fight stereotypes and myths about games and gamers, and to specifically counter the hysteria about video games that we sometimes see in the press, and definitely see in political circles on a regular basis. They're a great ally in the fight for freedom of speech and artistic expression in this field.

That's why I was so sorry to see the ECA launch a new campaign that encourages gamers to petition their congressional leaders and encourage them to regulate the high-tech economy more and waste more taxpayer dollars on inefficient universal service programs and subsidies:

Net Neutrality and Universal Broadband are not only great for America; they allow us to play the games we want at high speeds! ... ECA believes that Universal Broadband and Net Neutrality are vital for the development of the national infrastructure, and believes that this bill is an important opportunity to let Congress know that you agree.

Sorry, but someone at the ECA will have to tell me how Net neutrality regulation will make my online Madden and Tiger Woods Golf experience move faster. If anything, such regulations would slow things down by making it more difficult for carriers and gaming networks to create more effective bandwidth management schemes and pricing plans such that my video game bits can get through faster. Is that called "discrimination"? You better believe it, and it's a great thing. Go ask Microsoft why they signed up Limelight Networks a couple of years ago to help them make the Xbox Live experience more tolerable. Empowering regulators to micromanage this process, by contrast, is just going to quash innovative approaches to the problem and invite more regulation of high-tech markets in general. That won't help gamers in the long run.

Regarding the call for universal service subsidies... I suppose I could see the ECA's logic if those schemes actually worked. But we have 70 years of experience with these pork subsidy programs and they have proven to be an abysmal failure. They are prone to extreme waste, fraud, and abuse and, worse yet, those inefficient subsidies have discouraged competition in rural areas. You're not going to get more entry in the broadband business by subsidizing favored local operators all day long. And subsidizing risky new ventures isn't much better since it just lets bureaucrats roll the dice with our tax dollars. Bad idea.

Finally, there's a more important principle matter at stake here: If you want to hold the line on future government attempts to regulate video games, it's generally not a good idea to come to Congress asking for favors in the form of new regulation or spending. With one hand government giveth; with the other they (eventually) take away.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 9:05 PM | Free Speech , Net Neutrality , Universal Service

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